As Soilwork took to the stage, it was immediately clear that this was a night for professional metal musicians to showcase their talent. The Swedish veterans opened with the title track of their new album “The Ride Majestic,” and the race was on to pack as much metal fury as possible into the shortest amount of time. Even on the comparatively small stage Soilwork seemed larger than life, thundering through old favorites like “Bastard Chain” and celebrating the tenth anniversary of “Stabbing the Drama” with classics like “Nerve.” Dirk Verbeuren, for all the talent that surrounds him, remains the most hypnotic figure on the stage when Soilwork is playing. He never fails is making his flurry of complicated arm motions and coordinated kicking look easy, which belies just how talented the backbone of the backbone of the band’s rhythm section is.
More than that though, Soilwork impresses with their ability to create palpable force with their volume and precision. A song like “Late for the Kill, Early for the Slaughter” is difficult to replicate without falling into the abyss of distortion and chaos, but on this night it was sharp and effective, the powerful voice of Bjorn Strid cutting through the melody to keep the song on track. The set’s most impressive moments came near the end, again combining both new and old favorites. “Petrichor in Sulphur” rang into the rafters and swayed the gathered masses, while “Stabbing the Drama” then hammered everyone back into the ground, each measure another reminder of what well-crafted, experienced metal sounds like.
Eyes were focused TVs showing the Mets game between sets as they pushed toward clinching the NL pennant. A gentleman near rooted heartily, telling a friend "I don't really care about baseball, but they've got the whole city excited, so I'm getting into it." But when the time came for Soulfly, the crowd was ready. Speaking of, the crowd on this particular night was great by any standard, but particularly excellent for a crowd in the middle of the week. They moved, they danced, they moshed, they jumped on command and continued until told to stop. Just when it seemed like metal crowds had begun to lose their steam on the whole, this collection of people would reaffirm the belief that metal fans are game anytime, anywhere.
Soulfly, in simple terms, rocked. They crushed necks with opener “We Sold Our Souls to Metal,” and really never let off the gas, careening hastily into “Archangel” and “Blood Fire War Hate,” which stirred the masses into a frenzy. Just when it seemed that the temperature in the theater was at full tilt, along came a rendition of Sepultura classic “Refuse/Resist,” which tore the top off the place and had bodies flying in all directions to the throwback rhythms of Brazilians thrash from a few decades back.
What strikes when watching Soulfly is just how comfortable Zyon Cavalera looks being in the band. One would expect him to appear like a nervous twenty-two year old kid, especially sharing the stage with a famous father, but Zyon looks like an old veteran, pounding out beats with confidence and metronomic precision. Max Calavera, to his credit, clearly plays the part of prideful father on stage, never really drawing attention to the relationship between vocalist and drummer, but it remains evident in his manner.
There was no relenting as the band smashed through “Sodomites” and “Tribe,” continuing their assault with heavy-handed South American rhythms and thick, crunchy guitars. The encore was a who’s-who of crowd favorites, both from Soulfly and Sepultura. It’s easy to forget that “Back to the Primitive” was written fifteen years ago because on this night as in many others, it still sounds so virile and moves bodies with a throaty rumble. After that, the crowd’s meter was stuck on adulation, begging for more from Max before the night ended. He obliged them by reaching into the back catalogue for “Roots Bloody Roots” which stood as one of the band’s best performances of the night, the crowd singing and thrashing along in full chorus.
Metal is often guilty of hanging onto the past too closely, worshipping those who have come before regardless of their changes or manner. By contrast, these two bands are both worthy of that praise and keep the genre rooted by providing an example of how cathartic and energizing metal can be.